Genie Bouchard has made headlines with her reluctance to shake hands during the ritual posing of opponents that takes place during Fed Cup draw ceremonies.
On Friday in Montreal before the Canada – Ukraine World Group II Playoff this weekend, she put all that behind her and engaged in a friendly greeting with her first-day opponent – Kateryna Bondarenko. By her amused expression above, the 31-year-old Ukrainian was also in on the significance of the amicable hand clasp.
The reason they were being pictured together is because they will play second up on Saturday after Ukrainian No. 1 Lesia Tsurenko faces Canadian No. 2 Francoise Abanda.
It will be a first meeting between the No. 41-ranked Tsurenko and No. 127 Abanda while for No. 117 Bouchard, playing No. 1 for Canada, she beat the No. 2 Ukrainian (WTA No. 78) Bondarenko 7-6(2), 7-6(5) in Cincinnati in 2015.
“Maybe it’s a little bit easier for me that I’m going first,” the 28-year-old Tsurenko (above on left) said about kicking things off at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday at Stade IGA indoors on a Premier hard court. “Then I will cheer for Kateryna because if you do the opposite sometimes you lose a lot of energy cheering for your teammate.”
Abanda feels likewise. “I was telling (captain) Sylvain (Bruneau), I always prefer playing first,” she said. “But at the end of the day you still have to play your match, no matter when you play.”
The selection of Bouchard and Abanda for singles could not have been easy for Bruneau. Along with Bianca Andreescu all three players had good claims on a singles spot.
Abanda: The 21-year-old has always played well at home in Montreal and was the key player a year ago in a World Group II Playoff against Kazakhstan when, ranked No. 186, she defeated both No. 31 Yulia Putintseva and No. 51 Yaroslava Shvedova to spearhead the victory.
Andreescu: Last year against the Kazakhs when she was just 16, Andreescu played Putintseva tough and defeated Shvedova. She also played in Canada’s first round World Group II tie in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, in February and performed well in a 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2 loss to No. 37-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu. Named for Canada’s potential fifth match doubles alongside WTA doubles No. 10 Gabriela Dabrowski, Andreescu, currently No. 197 in singles, could still be substituted for Bouchard or Abanda in Sunday’s singles.
Bouchard: The 24-year-old is Canada’s top-ranking singles player at No. 117 and has historically played well in Fed Cup. Going back to her debut in 2011 in Koper, Slovenia, when she won her first match at age 17, she has compiled a 10-4 record in singles. She also came through in the decisive doubles match (with Sharon Fichman of Toronto) in a victory over Ukrainians Elina Svitolina and Tsurenko in Kiev in 2013.
“Sure it’s different,” said Bouchard (above cracking up with teammates during draw ceremony) said about playing Fed Cup. “Most of the year you don’t have a team around you. It’s not only the other players but we have a team of staff that help us. It didn’t come here just to find a click. I came to play matches because I like playing Fed Cup. Maybe it’s more fun, a little more relaxed because you can be around teammates. It’s just not on one individual – it’s all of us like a group. So I’m trying to stay relaxed and to play matches and give it my all – as always – and we’ll see.”
She received a bit of a grilling from some Montreal media about her modest 4-6 record so far in 2018, and responded about trying to find the form that took her to No. 5 in the world in 2014, “I’m working hard to get back to make sure that day happens sooner rather than later.”
With Ukraine having a team of superior-ranked players, Canada is the underdog on paper going into the weekend – with the loser to be relegated to zonal play in 2019. For Canada, that would likely mean travelling to Latin American for round-robin action next February. But often individuals can rise up, as Abanda did a year ago with her two wins, and carry a team to success. It happened in reverse to Canada in February, 2016, in Quebec City when little-known Aliaksandra Sasnovich had a hand in all three points as Belarus downed Canada.
This time the visitors will count on just three players, Tsurenko, Bondarenko and Olga Savchuk against the Canadian foursome.
It’s not something that’s done that often but even a Fed Cup powerhouse like France, playing at home this weekend in Aix-en-Provence against the USA, has only three players – No. 20 Kristina Mladenovic, No. 122 Pauline Parmentier and No. 204 Amandine Hesse. The French have to be huge underdogs on indoor clay against and American squad made up of No. 9 Sloane Stephens, No. 13 Madison keys, No. 15 Coco Vandeweghe and doubles No. 32 Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
“You have the right to have four players so normally countries bring four players because something can happen…an injury or whatever,” said Canadian captain Bruneau. “So you take a risk when you show up with just three players. I guess the other (Ukrainian) players have tournaments and some have refused to play. So there only choice was to bring three players.”
The Ukraine captain, Mikhail Filima, joked about the situation, “three is better than two.” The obvious absentee is World No. 4 Svitolina. “It’s difficult to attract strong players into the team because all of them have full schedules,” Filima explained. “But it’s my goal to build as strong a team as possible.”
Savchuk, 30, is the only reserve for the Ukrainians and her singles ranking is No. 867. She has not ranked in the top 150 in the last nine years and a year ago was 1-4 in singles. Her only win was 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 against her 17-year-old compatriot Dayana Yastremska in the qualifying in Moscow in September.
Canada has a solid singles back-up in Andreescu, so the Ukrainians are extremely vulnerable if Tsurenko or Bondarenko had any issues.
Following the two singles on Saturday, it’s scheduled to be the countries’ respective No. 1s – Tsurenko and Bouchard – in the third match beginning at noon on Sunday followed by No. 2s Bondarenko and Abanda.
But substitutions can be made and also to the announced doubles match-up of Bondarenko, No. 56 in doubles, and Savchuk vs. Dabrowski and Andreescu, No. 160 in doubles.
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(Feature photo: Pascal Ratthé/Tennis Canada)